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Group History

Days Not Forgotten

Days Not Forgotten - Barwick O. Barfield

by Marilee W. Barfield
(As told by her husband, Barwick O. Barfiel)

 

As is always the case, there are people to thank.

James S. Featherston -- a Pulitzer Prize winner -- a friend of Barwick's since boyhood -- a long time member of the journalism department at Louisiana State University -- for his helpful advice and patience while dealing with an amateur writer.

Donna B. Ross for her assistance and good humor while spending many hours typing and retyping this story.

To all the POWs of World War II and especially those who did not make it home.

To my wife Marilee, Mother and Dad.

Days Not Forgotten

FOREWORD: I met Barwick O. "Bob" Barfield during March of 1943 when we was an aviation cadet at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, my hometown. I was immediately attracted to the tall, slender, gentlemanly Mississippian, and we were married on September 28, 1943 in Dallas. A week earlier he had won his wings as an Army Air Force navigator and had been commissioned a second lieutenant. Over the years. Barwick has sometimes talked about his sometimes horrifying and heart-breaking war experiences. As our 50th wedding anniversary neared, I became determined his war stories should be put into writing. What follows are his experiences as told to me plus a few photographs about happenings on the home front and elsewhere.

Marilee Wilshire Barfield

Days Not Forgotten
By Barwick O. "Bob" Barfield

On May 24, 1944,1 was a B-17 navigator stationed in Thorpe Abbott, a small English farming village about 75 miles northeast of London. I was assigned to the 350th Squadron, one of the four squadrons comprising the 100th Bombardment Group, which became known as the "Bloody 100th" because of its heavy casualties during several years of daylight bombing. During World War II, 1,749 crewmen assigned to the "Bloody 100th" were killed, wounded, or listed as missing in action as the group flew 306 missions over Europe and lost 180 planes. The day of May 24,1944 is one I shall never forget because it was perhaps the worst of many bad days that followed. On that day, l was four days shy of turning 23 years old, and there were times that day I thought I would never make it.

I recently read that the Eighth Air Force flying out of England had more casualties than the entire Navy during World War 11.

At 2:30 a.m. an orderly, with a list of names came to awaken the officers that would fly that day. My barracks held 16 men, made up of the officers of four crews. Each B-17 Flying Fortress had 10 crewmen including a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, radio gunner, two waist gunners, engineer gunner, ball turret gunner, and tail gunner. The six enlisted men were in another barracks.

I dressed in my government issue uniform of wool socks, pants, and shirt. The planes flew at 18,000 to 25,000 feet (four miles up) and were not pressurized, so it was cold, 20 to 30 degrees below zero.

After dressing we would walk or borrow a bike (each crew was issued two) to the mess hall (dining room) about a half mile away. I realized this would be my 13th mission, but don't recall being superstitious about the unlucky number.

After a breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and orange juice (I didn't drink coffee) and doing some talking about our upcoming mission, we left for our briefing. (On days we didn't fly they gave us powdered eggs.) The men going to briefing now, were different than the young men on their first several missions. We had been excited and nxious to start doing a job we had been trained for -- to fight the war. We now made light conversation, where we would go on our next three day pass, how the weather looked, etc. But occasionally thoughts of the upcoming mission could cause someone to get upset and walk over to the side of the road and vomit. I was lucky I never did. If an airman became very emotional and upset, a physical exam would determine whether he should be given sick leave or relieved of his duties and given a ground job and transferred to another location.

The briefing took about an hour and all of the crew attended the first general briefing. Here we learned our target of the day was to be the main railroad station in the center of Berlin. This would be my fifth mission to Berlin. If a mission was to Northern France or Western Germany, a sigh of relief could be heard, but on this day it was far into the interior of Germany, and you could hear the groans. This was a longer, eight to 10 hour flight and we knew there would be a lot of flak (anti-aircraft artillery) and German fighters.

I later went to a special briefing for the navigators. Here I would learn our course to the target, weather, winds aloft, when we would take off and the schedule for the assembling with the planes from other bases in England. Also, we were given the time table of when we would leave the English coast and where.

While we were in specialized briefing the other crew members went to a building containing our 50 caliber machine guns. Here they cleaned and checked them out and later carried them to the plane. After briefing I put on my fleece-lined flight pants, jacket, boots, and a parachute harness.

We hitched a jeep ride out to our plane. The ground crew had worked all night readying the plane for today's mission. We had flown the day before to bomb an airfield at Troyer, France.

When we returned from a mission, we would be offered a shot of Scotch at the debriefing to reduce the tension. The Scotch drinkers were all hustling the non-drinkers to get their shots. It was remarkable how after just one or two missions, the new flyers who drank knew who were their potential non-drinking prospects. When we calmed down some, the fatigue would set in, for we had been flying eight to 12 hours depending on the location of the target.

On days we did not fly, when it was time for the planes to return we gathered in groups around the field hoping all would return safely. When they were spotted, we would start counting. Some planes barely made it back, some would crash on landing. We helped get out the wounded and dead. I remember helping to get out a dead navigator (his head had been blown off, whose crew was in my barracks. We became like a family -- very protective of each other. All the men in the group had grown close and were concerned about each other.

This morning, as usual, the bombardier and I entered the plane through an escape hatch (an opening about 18 inches square) in the nose. We would reach up and pull ourselves into the plane. The others entered through a side entrance in the waist. I put my navigation supplies (compass and maps from the briefing that was marked for our mission) on my small table and my chest pack (parachute, which was cylinder shaped and about the size of a small fireplace log, with two stainless steel hooks to snap onto two similar hooks on the harness, weighing about 10

pounds) on the floor underneath the table. The harness was put on before getting on the plane for it was made up of straps over my shoulders and around my legs with a padded section on my back, and two hooks on the front that the chute hooked onto. I checked my two 50 caliber machine guns, one of which was on each side of the plane's nose.

We could not use our radios -- because the Germans were monitoring our messages. During the briefing we were told what color flares would be used to signal us to start our engines, and then when to taxi down the runway and to take off.

We couldn't take off before dawn, because of the close formations required to furnish the protective fire power necessary to ward off the enemy fighters. At 5:30 a.m., we were given the signal to take off. We taxied down the runway and took off with the dawn just breaking. I worked on my maps and "Gee" Box (a navigation instrument similar to radar; the box measured about the size of a ladies shoe box) making sure it was working as there were stations all over England and when you got a fix signal, your maps indicated exactly where you were. Even though I was not the navigator in the lead plane that day, all navigators had to be prepared to take over the lead position if the lead plane was shot down or had to drop out. We could use the "Gee" Box over the English Channel but as we neared the continent the Germans had it jammed and it was not operative. Coming home it would become workable again when we arrived over the channel. We began to assemble, climbing and circling all the time. with other planes joining the formation. This took several hours. By then we were about 12,000 to 16,000 feet up with approximately 1,000 planes in formation, stretching about a half mile wide and perhaps 100 miles long, heading northeast and climbing to 22,000 feet. From the first wave to the last, leaving the English coastline could take up to an hour. Over the English Channel we would check our machine guns, test firing them to be certain they were ready for action.

About 45 minutes later, we reached the German coast at the mouth of the Elbe River. Our flight plan was to follow the Elbe to Berlin. We were attacked immediately by Focke-Wulf-190 and Messerschmitt-109 German fighter planes. Their first pass wiped out the six planes of our low squadron. Sixty men went down. We fought our way down river under severe fighter attack for several hours.

The German fighter planes came in so fast and sometimes through the clouds or out of the sun so we had to be constantly on the alert. When we saw one, we would call out the fighter location using the positions on a clock (i.e. 10 O'clock High, etc.). We had to stay on course and keep our position in the formation through the flak and fighters. With 2,000 pounds of bombs we flew at an indicated air speed of 155 miles an hour to the target. Coming home, in order to allow any damaged planes to keep up, we slowed to 150 miles an hour. Stragglers were easy prey for the enemy fighter planes. It was a miracle how some of these damaged B-17s got home - with tails shot off, gaping holes in the fuselage, engines and electrical systems shot out, and with dead and wounded crew members. We could see planes going down, parachutes caught in the tails of planes with the men whipping along behind like kites and we knew for those men there was no hope for survival. There was always tension and some semi-shock, but no time to be frightened.

One by one all but three of our original group (18 planes) was shot down. After a while the Germans withdrew as American P-51 Mustangs arrived to escort us to our target. Ahead we could see Berlin, and the sky was black with flak. We put on our flak helmets and jackets which were very heavy and covered us from shoulder to knees back and front. The P-51 s and the German fighters pulled away to keep from flying through the heavy anti-aircraft fire over the target. When flying into the flak it was so close and thick your first inclination was to shield yourself with your arm or hand, not that it would do any good. We flew over Berlin at about 24,000 feet. We had to keep straight and level so the bombardier could drop his bombs accurately. He dropped our bomb load about 11:20 a.m. and we climbed to 27,000 feet in order to get above the flak. We turned north then west to head back to England. We were attacked again by fighters and our right outside engine was hit and flames engulfed it. Our left inside engine was also hit and stopped. The plane was by now in flames and had gone into a dive. We left the formation about 35 miles north of Berlin. Over the intercom, Lt. Lin Williamson, our pilot, told us to get out as he had no control. This was about noon. The action was so fast you acted instinctively -- no time to think -- no time to be afraid. The adrenaline was pumping. I reached under my table, pulled out my chest pack, and snapped it onto my harness. I got down on my hands and knees and crawled onto the catwalk, between the nose and cockpit areas, to the emergency exit, the one I used to enter the plane back at the base in England. I pulled the exit escape handle but nothing happened.

As the navigator of a B- 17 I was interested in learning my chances of surviving my missions unscathed and also in-flight emergency operations. During my spare time I went to the base library to get information on these procedures. In reading I found navigators had a 50% chance of being captured and held as a POW (after being shot down or crash landing), a 30% chance of being killed, a 10% chance of being wounded so severely I would not be able to return to active duty, and a 10% chance of completing all myrequired missions. Also, I learned that the escape hatch did not open

easily because of the outside pressure and had to be forced open. I did not have any experience operating the escape hatch during flight or bailing out of a plane so I was glad I had read up on this.

I got on my knees and kicked out the escape hatch door with my foot, and my leg went through the opening up to my hip, I pulled it back and without looking I rolled out the opening. As the plane was in flames and had gone into a nose dive I was glad the bombs were gone.

I immediately grabbed the handle of my chute and jerked it. Time seemed to stand still, and the chute was not opening. But before my hand could reach to tear it open, out of the corner of my eye I saw a white flutter -- it was the pilot chute pulling out the main chute. Then I felt like I had run into a brick wall. As the harness was also strapped around my legs, it felt as though my legs were being pulled off. I placed my arms up through the chute shrouds in an attempt to take some of the weight off my legs. A few minutes later two German fighter planes flew by, but they ignored me. I had bailed out at about 30 degrees below zero. I could see some parachutes around me, but I couldn't see the ground below at first because of cloud cover. I was in the air about 15 minutes. During the first few minutes, I could not sense any movement. I gradually sensed some lateral movement and during the last 4,000 to 5,000 feet, I had an increasing sensation of falling. I was still surprised to hit the ground so fast. My chute hit some trees about 40 feet tall and I free fell to the ground. My face was the only thing not covered so it was scratched and bleeding. I landed on my heels with such force it caused my sewed in headset to pop out of my helmet and then fell over backwards. I tried to get up, but felt as though my back was broken (I remember thinking "Isn't this a heck of a note, I get out of that burning plane and break my back when I hit the ground"). However, I did manage to sit up and remove my fleece-lined jacket because of the 80 degree ground temperature, which was such a contrast with the 30 degrees below it had been in the plane. Within a few minutes a German Luger (pistol) was pointed at my head and I heard "raus" (get up and fast). I had not heard him coming. Not knowing German I nevertheless figured out what it meant. With that Luger at my temple, I found I could get up! He said "sphiechen sie Deutsch" (do you speak German?), I shook my head "no". Thinking Deutsch was Holland, I thought he might be friendly. I found out later Deutschland was Germany and he was not friendly. The soldier motioned for me to pick up my chute and jacket and we walked in heavy sand to a nearby dirt road where there was a bicycle, I was sweating profusely and my back was hurting terribly. He motioned to me and I thought he wanted me to get on, but he wanted me to push it. Although my back was hurting I was more concerned about what lay ahead of me. As we walked we came across a couple of older men in civilian clothing wearing Volksarmee" (people's army) arm bands and they were carrying shotguns. The German soldier and the civilians spoke briefly. I was glad the German soldier had found me first because I had been told many airmen had been lynched by infuriated civilians. I was forced to walk a couple of miles to a Polish work camp where they took my parachute and jacket. This camp had Polish prisoners who worked in the fields and were returned to this camp at night. I was put in a room with a couple of bunk beds. They let me lie down but I was so tense I could not relax. Still no sign of my crew, but I did see a few other airmen. I was in there for a couple of hours when three guards came in and interrogated me. They asked me my name, rank, and serial number, and searched me (made me strip down to my underwear). They took my watch, wedding ring, and a picture of my wife, but they gave my ring and picture back. They brought in my waist gunner, Sgt. Colbert Graham, who had been shot in the left knee with a 20 millimeter cannon before he bailed out. I was glad to see him. I helped him as we were forced to walk a couple of miles (we were not allowed to talk) to a small town, where we were put in a police station jail. There were 10 or 12 other downed airmen there, and I knew several of them. We talked a lot about what had happened to us and how we got out of our planes. The Germans searched us and asked again name, rank, and serial number; we were there a couple of hours. We were put in a truck with a covered top. Several guards climbed in and we rode several hours (it was dark and we were not able to see if there was any destruction along the way) before reaching Berlin where we were taken to Tempelhof Flughafen (in the southern part of the city), a large airport in Berlin (made famous after the war for the Berlin airlift). There was very little talking and we didn't know what was going to happen to us. We were put in a large dungeon like room where there were 75 or so men. That night we slept on a concrete floor. We were not interrogated as the guards had our papers from prior interrogations.

The Stars & Stripes (a daily newspaper of U.S. Armed Forces in the European Theater of Operations then printed in New York and London in it's May 25, 1944 edition reported "\on the previous day 4,000 American war planes spread across Europe in daylight yesterday to bomb the three key cities of Hitler's enslaved continent-- Paris, Berlin, and Vienna. The Nazis officially declared this marked

'The eve of decisive operations against the Continent'. ETO (European Theater of Operation) based formations came home with reported losses of 32heavies and 13 fighters. For battered Berlin it was the 11th daylight pounding, the fourth this month and its 113th night or day bombing since the war began four years and eight months ago. A total of 29 enemy aircraft were reported shot down in combat and two destroyed on ground. "

The next morning they gave us something like oatmeal to eat, but I was not hungry. A guard came in and got me to help my waist gunner, who was in a lot of pain but had stopped bleeding, to the airport hospital. I told him "good luck" and he said "thanks" (I ran into him later at Moosburg and his knee was all right). They took me back to where the others were. Later in the morning they came and got us and we were herded into several covered trucks, and driven into the center of Berlin. A block from the railroad station, we got out and walked the rest of the way. As we passed, the local people spat, threw rocks, and called us "Luftgangsters" (air gangsters) and "terrenfleigers" (terror flyers). Bombed-out buildings could be seen along the way. We arrived at the station around noon. Civilians and military men were waiting for trains. The station was very large with a glass arched dome ceiling, but all the glass had been blown out. Damage could be seen -- probably caused by the bombing we had done the day before. I was put on a passenger train with five or more to a seat, so we were very crowded. Everyone felt isolated and wondered what was going to happen. No one was allowed to get up except to go to the toilet. We did as we were told and thought they might shoot us. Everyone was very nervous as this was the time of day the Allies bombed Berlin. We did not encounter any bombing (strafing had not begun at this time because the fighters were not equipped for long range flying) along the way. Out of the windows the countryside didn't seem to have much destruction. In the larger cities you could see bombed-out factories and buildings. I noticed things had been cleaned, except places which had been bombed recently, perhaps for morale purposes. There wasn't much talking. We slept some as we were on the train three days. Our captors did give us some black bread and sausage (the black bread was soggy, very heavy, and tasted like I imagine sawdust would). The days ran together so I didn't realize May 28th (my 23rd birthday) had come and gone. Our destination was Frankfurt-am-Main (River), which is in western Germany. There we got off the train, climbed on a trolley and rode about 15 miles to Dulag Luft (air camp), an Air Force interrogation center. Hundreds of downed Allied airmen were there. I was put into solitary confinement for three days. The room was small with a cot and small overhead light. Bailing out of the plane, having a gun pointed at me, the interrogations, my back hurting from the long three day ride on the train, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. The guards had to awaken me each time they interrogated me. I only wanted to sleep, but did eat a little of the food they pushed through the door for me. Under the Geneva Convention Agreement, which defines the required treatment of POWs, the only information you are required to give your captors is name, rank, and serial number. This had been emphasized to us by the intelligence officers back at the base. They still asked where I was from, the name of the base, my commanding officer's name (I didn't know -- at this point in the war the turnover was so frequent, I couldn't have told even if I wanted to), what kind of plane I was flying, was I a fighter pilot out of Italy, how many missions I had flown, how long I had been in Europe. Looking back over some interrogation papers, I now know they knew I was not a fighter pilot but were probably trying to trick me. Then they would say "We know your family is worried about you, if you give us this information we can send a message through the International Red Cross to inform them you are alive and a prisoner of war." This was very tempting. They already knew some details about me (their spy system in the U.S. was very thorough) -- such as when I received my wings and bars, and when I married. I was surprised how much they knew (they knew even more about some of the other men). I had a small picture of my wife. They again took it but returned it later. They were not very interested in me, being a second lieutenant, because there were captains, majors, colonels, and possibly generals, and they were more interested in interrogating them. The fourth day we were taken from the interrogation center outside to a barbed wire enclosed compound with barracks, where there were about 500 men. I was glad to get back with people, and felt a little more relaxed (I guess I believed the old saying about there being safety in numbers). I remember seeing many officers bent over searching the ground looking for cigarette butts -- I sure was glad I didn't smoke. That day the International Red Cross sent in prisoner supplies and a German Red Cross man handed some packages out. We received one pair of wool pants and shirt, and a couple of changes of underwear and a Kreege kit which included a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, razor, and comb (Kreegegefan means prisoner of war, we called each other Kreegies, thus the Kreege kit). We stood in line to get these (I never saw a Red Cross woman). I had lived in my clothes for eight days so I'm sure the smell was not very pleasant but I didn't really think much about it. The

showers were very busy that day, and the clean clothes -- what a treat! We were given a little food. We were there one night. We still didn't know our destiny -- guards with guns were everywhere.

We left the next morning around 9 on the trolley back to Frankfurt-am-Main, and then on to the train for three days back across Germany to Sagan (now in Poland). The shock was wearing off and w heard rumors of a Stalag Luft 111. We were taken off the train and walked about three or four abreast with guards all around for several miles through woods. There were trees but no underbrush. I remember thinking it was a beautiful day. I was glad to get to Stalag Luft 111, thinking this would be m final camp. Ahead was a very large clearing, I could see guard towers and tall barbed wire fences all around. Inside a fence about 20 or 30 feet high was a guard rail about a foot high. If a POW was found in between the fence and the rail he was instantly shot. This was Stalag Luft 111 (air cam three), about 75 miles southeast of Berlin and southeast of Sagan. This would be my home behind barb wire for how long? What lay ahead?

On August 27, 1993, I received a package from my pilot Lindley Williamson, who had gotten copies of official interrogation papers from Mrs. Mae Sewell, widow of Tech Sgt. Sewell (who had passed away several years ago). Sewell had been our flight engineer. These documents were copies of interrogations at Camp Lucky Strike in LeHavre, France, after being liberated at Moosburg, Germany. Each member of the crew gave his account on the "individual casualty questionnaire" and "casualty questionnaire". There were also German reports on "capture of members of Enemy Air Force" made in Brandenburg - Briest, Neurippin - small towns near Berlin. The report of "captured aircraft" states the plane went down at Buechkwitzerf three kilometer southeast of Wusterbausen, about 30 miles north of Berlin. Two dead had been recovered at the crash site and were buried May 24, 1944 in the village cemetery in Kampehl in district Ruppin. These were 2nd Lt. James Dennis, our co-pilot, and Tech Sgt. Lloyd Kouns, our radio operator. These reports look like they were sent to England. The reports say all of the crew thought that all had bailed out If so, two were killed on the ground, maybe lynched by civilians. There were reports from other planes reporting planes downed, and a number of parachutes were seen. The package also included a note I had handwritten and forgotten about. These papers were upsetting to my wife as she had heard these events told many times over the years, but these were in writing, putting these stories in a clearer perspective. She also thought about how her life would have been had things turned out differently on that day 50 years ago.

We could see prisoners of war already there coming toward the gate to see if they knew anyone and to ask us the latest news from outside. Oddly enough they knew of the upcoming invasion (we didn't). They wanted to know when it was to take place and when they could expect to get out. As we walked through the gates someone called out "Bob", I turned and saw a navigator, Lt. John "Bill" Frey, of Canton, Ohio, whom I knew in Pyote and Dalhart, Texas. At about the same time, someone cried out "Barfield, what the hell are you doing here". It was Lt. Jack Viets, of Cleveland, Ohio, with a big grin on his face. This was June 4, 1944, and Viets said he "sure was glad to see someone" he knew. (Viets was my original pilot and when I had arrived in England I had tried to look him up and found out he was missing in action. The reason I did not stay on his crew, is that back in the States I had contracted scarlet fever in Dalhart, and was put in the hospital. My original crew was shipped out before I was released. I was later assigned to Lt. Williamson's crew.)

On June 6, 1944 we were told by the Germans of the Allied invasion. It was "D Day" at Normandy, and we were very excited. A German officer took a stick and drew in the sand a map of where it had taken place. He told us that the Allies would be pushed back into the sea.

Back in the States on June 6, 1944, a very different kind of message was delivered to Marilee Barfield by a Western Union messenger. She recalls:

"June 6, 1944, a Tuesday, my family was invited out to a luncheon and had not turned on the radio, but I remember there was a premonition of something going to happen or had happened. When we arrived at the home of our hostess, she told us of the invasion. Everyone was excited."

"Later on in the afternoon when we arrived home, there was a note on the door saying 'call Western Union' I had a telegram. I became very upset and called and was told the messenger was on his way with the telegram. Our neighbors had seen him come earlier and were concerned for me because of Barwick and also my stepfather was fighting in the Pacific. Two young men in our neighborhood had already been killed in the war. Neighbors were very close in those days. I still can see the messenger walking up the walkway, it seemed to take him forever. "

"The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your husband 2nd Lt. Barwick 0. Barfield has been reported missing in action since 24 May over Germany. If further details or other information are received you will be promptly notified. The Adjutant General. "The American Red Cross told me it was usually six weeks or longer before I could expect word of the whereabouts of my husband. I became very ill, but with the prayers of family and friends I soon felt he was alive and well.

Marilee received each month a bulletin from the American Red Cross. She looked forward to these informative bulletins. "On June 26, 1944, I received word via Western Union telegram he had been captured and was now a POW."

 

WAR DEPARTMENT
IN REPLY REFER TO: THE ADJUTANT GENERAL'S OFFICE
WASHINGTON 25D. C

AC 201 Barfield Barwick 0.8 June 1944.

PC-N ST0 085
Mrs. Marilee W. Barfield
187 Harvard Street
Houston Texas.

Dear Mrs. Barfield:

This letter is to confirm my recent telegram in which you were regretfully informed that your husband, Second Lieutenant Barwick 0. Barfield, 0-691,680, Air Corps, has been reported missing in action over Germany since 24 May 1944.

I know that added distress is caused by failure to receive more information or details. Therefore, I wish to assure you that at any time additional information is received it will be transmitted to you without delay, and, if in the meantime no additional information is received, I will again communicate with you at the expiration of three months. Also, it is the policy of the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces upon receipt of the "Missing Air Crew Report" to convey to you any details that might be contained in that report.

The term "missing in action" is used only to indicate that the whereabouts or status of an individual is not immediately known. It is not intended to convey the impression that the case is closed. I wish to emphasize that every effort is exerted continuously to clear up the status of our personnel. Under war conditions this is a difficult task as you must readily realize. Experience has shown that many persons reported missing in action are subsequently reported as prisoners of war but as this information is furnished by countries with which we are at war, the War Department is helpless to expedite such reports. However, in order to relieve financial worry, Congress has enacted legislation which continues in force the pay, allowances and allotments to dependents of personnel being carried in a missing status.

Permit me to extend to you my heartfelt sympathy during this period of uncertainty.

Sincerely yours,
J. A. ULIO
Major General
The Adjutant General

The prison camp was divided into North, East, Center, and West compounds, and I was put in the West compound. From another compound older Kreegies were sent in to show the new men what was expected of them and to help them cope with this new life-style. In approaching a German officer you saluted but didn't talk to him unless he spoke to you. Some were friendly and some weren't.

 

Usually an American major was in charge of the block (barracks). The higher ranking officers were assigned to separate blocks, and the highest ranking officer was in charge of the compound and the German officers made contact with him. If there were any problems they communicated at the highest level; however, there was no doubt about who was in command. These German officers seemed to realize the prisoners in the compound were also officers, and when they came inside the camp they appeared as and conducted themselves as professional military officers.

 

As we came into the compound we were counted off and told to go to different blocks. I was assigned toward the back in block 169. We were looked over carefully by the men in the compound. For there was always a concern that one of the new prisoners might be a planted spy.

 

Each compound had 2,500 men or more. Sagan was situated between 51 and 52 degrees latitude, about the same as middle Canada (Quebec), so it became very cold in the winter.

 

Each compound was about 100 feet apart. The North compound was where what was known as the "Great Escape" took place before arrived. All the escapees were recaptured and most were shot. (There was a movie made in the 1960's starring Steve McQueen and others about this attempted escape.)

 

The older Kreegies would tell us how tough things had been before we got there, and how much easier things were now -- a big joke. We all played this game.

 

Each barrack had a long hall down the middle with rooms on each side. At the back there was an inside latrine with buckets that we could only use at night after we were locked in. We also had a common small kitchen and each room was allotted 30 minutes a day to prepare food. The kitchen only had a small potbellied stove that burned coal bricks. Each sleeping room had a table and lockers in which to keep utensils, and any food we had. The table had attached benches on both sides. This table was used for eating, playing cards, writing home and reading. Usually several activities were going on at the same time. The kitchen was used for heating food only. Each man rotated for a week for cooking, washing dishes, and sweeping the room. The Germans gave us a small amount of coal to use in the stove.

 

When I arrived, we each were given one food parcel a week. In it we received a can of Klim (powdered milk, milk spelled backwards), we made our bowls, knives, forks, and cups out of the metal containers that were about the size of an one-pound coffee can. In addition, the parcels contained several cans of food such as Spam, corned beef, D bars (unsweetened chocolate), coffee, tea, cigarettes, etc. Several months later we were reduced to one parcel for two men a week. The Germans said this was because of transportation difficulties due to Allied strafing. Each barrack had four American enlisted men assigned to keep halls, latrine, and kitchen clean.

 

In the rooms there were anywhere from nine to 12 men, with triple bunks. The bed slats were made of wire similar to piano strings -- three running the length of the bunk and the others running from side to side. Burlap bags filled with woodshavings were used for mattresses. After lying on it for a few minutes, the shavings would shift, and you would be lying on the wire slats only. This didn't help my back that was still giving me problems.

 

The flies were very bad. Our block was close to an outside latrine and we had one on the inside. We cut long strips of paper and tacked them to the windows. This helped keep some of the flies out and let air and light in. There were wooden shutters on the windows and at night they were closed and locked.

 

We were issued one blanket from the Red Cross and one from the Germans. When winter came and it was freezing, I slept in my clothes.

 

There was a cook house where the Germans cooked large pots of potatoes, bread and sometimes barley or pea soup, usually containing worms. These were passed out to each of the blocks.

 

Food was delivered by the International Red Cross by horse-drawn wagons (we never saw a motor car, there was one wood-burning truck). We looked forward to American parcels, as they contained chocolates, crackers, cheese, sugar, coffee, corn beef, powdered milk, oleo, and cigarettes (which I traded for food, soap, jam, prunes. and raisins). There were also parcels from Argentina, England, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia sent through Switzerland. These were always checked out for messages or weapons.

 

The Germans gave us some vegetables and some staples. The potatoes were mostly rotten.

 

The medium of exchange was cigarettes and D Bars (chocolate). I was introduced to kohlrabi (like a turnip) and sauerkraut. To this day I still like both. Our food was not locked up, as we felt we were all in this together, and I never heard of any stealing. The men were fair to each other, and were proud of being American officers and airmen.

 

PRISONERS OF WAR BULLETIN

 

Published by the American National Red Cross for the Relatives of American Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees

 

VOL. 2, No. 6 WASHINGTON, D. C.JUNE 1944

 

One Year Old

 

One year ago the first number of PRISONERS OF WAR BULLETIN was issued for the relatives of American prisoners of war and civilian internees. At that time Mr. Norman H. Davis, Chairman of the American Red Cross, in an introductory statement set forth the purpose of the new publication. It would serve, he said, "to give information, consistent with war conditions, about American prisoners of war and the methods for providing aid and comfort to them."

 

The issues of the BULLETIN which have since come regularly each month from the press have tried faithfully to achieve the original purpose as set forth by the Chairman. The first number, for instance, had as its principal feature a concise summary of the rights of prisoners of war. Other articles from time to time have given helpful advice to the next of kin and detailed information on what they could do, through the sending of supplementary packages and special parcels of books and tobacco, to alleviate the moral and physical distress of their loved ones.

 

Factual Reports on Camp Conditions.

 

Other outstanding features of the BULLETIN have been the pages of interesting quotations from personal letters written by servicemen and civilians held in European and Far Eastern camps and the columns of questions and answers where some of the problems and rulings worrying the anxious next of kin have been solved or clarified for them. Camp notes, and detailed reports on the condition of camps in Europe and the Far East containing Americans, have been published regularly and as promptly as the information could be gathered from responsible sources. The aim throughout has been accurately to inform, help, and advise the families at home, and not simply to console or comfort them.

 

From time to time the BULLETIN has also served to publicize important governmental rulings concerning the sending of cables, letters, and packages to American prisoners of war. It has faithfully and succinctly attempted to report the various steps taken by the United States government through the Protecting Power, and the American Red Cross through the International Committee of the Red Cross, to implement the Articles of the 1929 Geneva Prisoners of War Convention which govern the treatment of military prisoners.

 

Our Prisoners in the Far East

 

It is a matter for profound regret that the American Red Cross, in cooperation with other interested agencies, has so far been only partially successful in persuading the Japanese government to conform to the rules laid down in the Geneva Convention. But this vital matter will not be allowed to drop. Readers of the BULLETIN have been kept informed of all the efforts unceasingly made to send relief to American and Allied prisoners held in the Far East. They also know that the British Commonwealth and American Red Cross societies are striving, through diplomatic and Red Cross channels, to open a route along which relief supplies may be allowed to pass freely.

 

With the active support of the Air Transport Command of the United States Army and the invaluable cooperation of the Russian government, an expeditious mail channel to American prisoners in the Far East has been opened about which the families have been promptly informed. Through reports, articles, and photographs they also know of the Red Cross fleet which shuttles the Atlantic, and they have the assurance that we will not rest until a similar fleet carries relief supplies over the Pacific.

 

Keeping Relief Channels Open

 

Of all the manifold activities of the Red Cross during war, none is perhaps so complex and yet so important as relief to prisoners of war. Important it is too that the relatives of these prisoners be reassured about this relief and made aware of the many intricate problems facing the Red Cross in keeping open channels of communication and supply to those in prison camps overseas.

 

In the months that lie ahead, therefore, when the total number of prisoners will undoubtedly increase with each new step along the road leading to our country's final and most certain victory, there will be much for PRISONERS OF WAR Bulletin to do. Guided by the experience of the past twelve months, I am sure its editors will continue in the future to publish with accrued sagacity the information and guidance to those for whom the publication was founded one year ago— the relatives of our American prisoners of war and civilian internees.

 

RICHARD F. ALLEN

Vice Chairman Insular and Foreign Operations

American Red Cross

 

The laundry block had scrubbing tables, basins, and tubs. We had very little hot water, which was brought in from the cook house. We would lay our clothes on the ground to dry. In the winter the water froze, making washing and drying the clothes very hard. Even when it was very cold and the water frozen, I still bathed to keep down the fleas.

 

Our block was maybe 50 feet from the outside latrine which had 30 to 50 holes. During the summer the smell was awful if the wind blew from that direction. The Germans came in a couple of times a week with the "Honey Wagon", a horse-driven tank made of wood, to pump out the latrine.

 

There was a pool with about four feet of water to be used in case of fire. For a while we used it to cool off in the summer, until it filled with bugs.I don't remember anyone becoming very sick. The new men brought in with gun-shot wounds and other injuries were treated before they came into the compound. Fighter pilots often had severe burns on their faces and hands. I guess they were treated before they came to the compound. I didn't know anyone who ever received any medical help, and I don't know if there was any available.

 

We were locked into the blocks at 9 p.m. Guards (we called them "goons", but never to their face) would come around and tell us it was time to go in and lock us in. Then we would have to use the inside latrine. We could keep lights on until midnight. Afterwards, the guards would shoot at any light on through any open shutters. No one was permitted outside after we were locked in. Guards and dogs patrolled all night and search lights were on. There was a light on top of the outside door in case of sickness or as an emergency signal.

 

Every morning a guard would come and unlock the doors around 6 a.m., and at 7 a.m. we were expected to be at appell (roll call). Sometimes we would rush out to go to the toilet because in the inside latrine there were only buckets, and many nights they would fill up. If the roll call numbers were not correct, we would have to stand until all the men were accounted for. This could last for several hours. In the winter we were very cold standing there. In the evening it was the same thing all over again. We never knew when the Ferrets (guards who didn't carry guns but used long poles to probe for tunnels) would rush in, order everyone out, and search our barracks for radio parts (all radios were taken apart and scattered). They would search the walls, floors, beds, and everywhere.

 

The Kreegies knew when the BBC (British Broadcasting Co.) would come on, and the radios would quickly be re-assembled. When news was received, it would be passed barrack to barrack by Kreegies, never the same ones to throw off the guards. The Germans knew there were radios in the compound and at times found them. The Germans had a radio with loudspeakers at the cook house. The German news came on at the same time each day. There were some American prisoners who spoke German fluently. Five of them would listen to the German news and take notes. They would then each take one-fifth of the barracks and hold meetings to give all prisoners the news as presented by Goebbels (the German minister of propaganda). We believed that this was all propaganda. We made maps and kept track of where the Allies and Russians were. The Russians were getting closer and closer. Once they stopped (re-grouping, we were told) and we were upset for we had hopes that they would liberate us. (I am glad now they didn't. After the war we learned the Russians never returned many of the "liberated" prisoners. I'm not sorry I didn't take a holiday in Siberia.) The International Red Cross sent in food and the International YMCA sent in sports equipment, balls, bats, cards, games, and books, some musical instruments and ice skates. Some seed packets were given to us to plant, but they never did sprout successfully. The gardens were dug up with tin cans, sticks and anything we could use.

 

Behind our barracks was a large field with pine stumps about six to eight inches high. We took our Klim cans and getting down on our hands and knees dug up the stumps by hand and made a field we could play ball on (it was not a "field of dreams" but one of sweat and blisters). We also marked out in the sand a rectangle about 140 feet long and 40 feet wide. With our Klim cans, we dug out a hole about four to six inches deep and filled with water. The dirt was piled up on the sides to keep the water in. All of this digging on the field took a month or so. Winter came and when it froze it was used as an ice rink. The YMCA had sent in skates, (our northern friends knew how to ice skate) and teams were formed to play hockey. Hockey sticks and pucks were also sent in or wood sticks and rocks were used. In one compound we could see rugby being played by the Brits.

 

At first I had roomed with my pilot, Lt. Lindley Williamson, and bombardier, Lt. William Carrillo. I then started playing bridge with Lt. Bill Frey and moved into his room. We remained friends during the terrible march later on and after we came home to the States. I don't remember seeing Lt. Williamson and Lt. Carrillo again after I left Stalag Luft 111 until I got to Camp Lucky Strike.

 

My first letter from home was from my wife arriving nearly three months after my capture. It is impossible to describe how thrilled I was to hear from Marilee. Each time we had mail call I hoped for one. Seeing other Kreegies get mail had been very disappointing. The letter form was five and one-half inches wide and 13 inches long, it was tri-folded with a tab at one end and a slit on the other end (the tab end was inserted in the slit on the other end). My letters home were on the same forms. Of course they were all censored coming in and going out. The censors cut out words they didn't like or thought were a code. The first letter I sent home I asked for some "long handle" underwear. So after four months my one and only package from home arrived with two pairs of winter underwear, I was very disappointed, because by now I wanted food. (However, later I was very glad I had them.) I gave one pair to Lt. Frey. I don't remember other things in it except vitamins, each tablet wrapped in wax paper. I received many letters but only one package and later I found out six were sent (the German government ruled that each prisoner's family could only send out one package every 60 days). The maximum weight for each package was 11 pounds and was about the size of an average cake box.

 

We were all very interested in each other's food packages. I remember one Kreegie got an egg (he traded cigarettes for the egg with a guard). Everyone in the block came and watched him cook and eat it. Thanksgiving we saved up our food and had a big meal. We were full for a change and we enjoyed our full stomachs. One of my roommates had received a box of cigars and passed them around. I didn't smoke so I did not take one. I was soon glad I didn't because those who did light up vomited up all their food. At the beginning of our internment we were afraid, not knowing the outcome. Uncertainty anytime is scary, but as time went on I felt somewhat safer. Boredom and monotony were common. We talked about home, wives, girlfriends, family, anything. If only we knew how long we would be here we could count the days off, but not knowing made it worse. As months went on the main discussions were about food (family and girlfriends were not talked about so much) and what we would eat when we got home. I remember men saying, "I'll greet my wife; give her a big kiss and then run to hug the refrigerator." One said that he would put a hospital tray filled with food at the foot of his bed and when hungry pull it up and eat away. I said I would put a "lazy susan" at the head of my bed filled with all kinds of sandwich meats and cheeses. When I wanted to eat I would simply spin the lazy susan and make my choices.

 

We played softball. Teams were selected by each block and the competition was fierce. The cheering was loud and there was heavy betting of D bars and cigarettes. Bridge games were going on practically all day and all night. I played bridge seven or eight hours at a time. (When I came home, we went to bridge parties but the competition was not nearly as stiff.)

 

The YMCA sent in many kinds of equipment for entertainment. Some of the men were very creative and made scenery and costumes, and some with stage experience produced several plays. We really enjoyed these. It would require a run of two performances a day for about a week in order for everyone to go. Parcel cases were used as seats and we sat on the floor. Musical instruments had also been sent in and an orchestra was formed, many of the men had been professional musicians. There were sing alongs and at Christmas a play was put on and we all sang carols.

 

From the War Prisoner's Aid of the YMCA Marilee received a next of kin letter telling her how it was helping by sending educational, recreational, and religious materials for POWs. The aim was to send prisoners what they needed to make the most of their free time and help prepare for the future.

 

Movies were also sent in. I saw four: Dixie Dugan," "Orchestra Wives," "The Corsican Brothers," and a travel film. All had been censored so it was not unusual when something was cut or if film broke, which it did, but we didn't mind.

 

The Germans flew over now and then in F-190s, ME-109s, and 110s, and other planes. In November, we saw our first rocket planes (jets). They certainly got our attention with their speed. We had never seen anything like it. We were lucky they came in so late in the war. Our propeller driven planes would not have been a match for them.

 

Everyday I would walk around the compound (Guard Rail) maybe a half-mile or so. Around the middle of January of 1945 we were told to walk more and more. The weather by now was very cold and we had several feet of snow on the ground.

 

We had been hearing rumors we would be moved (where and when we didn't know). The Russian guns were getting closer and closer. About a week before we moved out we could hear Russian guns to the northeast getting very close. By the time we left on January 28, 1945, they seemed just a few miles away. This was a Saturday and the holes in my shoes were very bad. I had stuffed paper in them, and I was to get a new pair from the Red Cross on Monday. Saturday night we were not locked up and we knew something was happening. What, we didn't know. There was anxiety, alarm, and apprehensiveness. About 11 p.m. the guards came in and told us we would move out in an hour. There was a lot of confusion, and concern (I had begun to feel under the circumstances safe and somewhat protected) -- the place was being tom up. The benches around the table and wood planks from the walls were being used to make sleds. Some used blankets for their sleds. I made a pack out of a shirt and put in a blanket and toothbrush, razor, and food. I dressed as warm as I could with the clothes I had. I had an overcoat -- German -- and wrapped a blanket over my head and shoulders and with my pack marched out. The guards would call out blocks to move out, then we would have to stand out in the cold to wait. I moved out about midnight. Bill and I walked out together. Instead of feeling panic or fear my reaction was calm, more stolid. There were thousands of us, probably 10,000 men (six abreast, not really lined up, three or four miles long).

 

With the Russians driving into Germany from the east and Allies from the west, all able bodied German soldiers were sent to the fronts. This was why they now used old men for guards as this was about all they were capable of doing.

 

At first the walking was fast but with the cold and blizzard we slowed down for we weren't in the best of condition. The temperature dropped well below zero. Occasionally we would stop and rest maybe 10 minutes -- all along hearing big guns behind us. In the days ahead would be sub-zero weather, and sickness, frozen feet and hands, and blisters were taking their toll. The paper in my shoes was wearing through; my feet were very cold and my toes became numb (my toes stayed numb and black until after I returned home). We helped each other as best we could. I didn't weigh much and never had so I was in better condition than most, especially those who had been in the prison camp much longer than I or had been badly wounded. Sleds and extra possessions began dropping by the wayside. Because of their age and/or disabilities our guards were having problems also. When they dropped out we would help them up and carry their guns. We didn't want the "SS" (troops who were known to be very tough), to take over. Some of the prisoners started falling out, some went out of their minds. A horse-drawn wagon would pick them up, I don't know what happened to them. We had been traveling by country roads and didn't see much if any war damage. About the second day out we came into the square of a small town. It was about 9:30 p.m. The German town people came out and gave us water, and some Kreegies got some food, I didn't. (I guess they realized the war was nearly over and they would not be the victors.) We were there for several hours, then the guards tried to line us up, to no avail (they were not trained for this task). We helped get the men in order to march out of town. Occasionally we would come upon a bombed-out building or factory where we could rest and maybe even lay down and sleep.

 

On March 28, 1945, Marilee read her local paper (The Houston Chronicle) which reported "chaos in Germany resulting from the Russian sweep toward Berlin and the British/American offensive on the west has caused the Allies to lose track of thousands of Allied prisoners of war" After a few days out, the blizzard and very cold weather was still with us. In the middle of the night we heard gunfire. We ran for cover, some shots zipped by me, a road marker was close and I threw myself on the snow and pressed my head against it for protection. Rumors abounded that the Russians were strafing the marchers. Some men tried to escape during the confusion, but from the gunshots and hearing the guard dogs barking, I don't believe any got away.

 

The snow was getting deeper, three feet or more, (I guess I was lucky as I was in the latter part of the long line, so the snow was beaten down by the time I came along) and the temperature seemed colder. The cold was so penetrating -- we had been on the road several days and when we passed a barn with a horse in it, I remember wishing I was that horse in his warm barn. We were numbed by the cold. By now we had been on the road three days. We did receive a little food along the way. We came upon a bombed-out pottery factory. As many as could get in were allowed to go in and rest. We would lay a blanket down on the cement floor and cover ourselves with another, with all of us close together to keep warm. This was the first time we were allowed to lie down and rest, and it was then about 5 p.m. I think this was one of the best night's sleep I ever had. We didn't think about not getting through this, we knew we would. In our minds we could not fathom the thousands included on this march nor any individual's ability to assist the entire group. We each had one or two friends that we wanted and helped to survive. We left the next day around noon.

 

We didn't see any fighting along the way. We had traveled five days and nights when we arrived in Spremberg about 60 miles from Stalag Luft 111. This was a very small town, it didn't appear the war had gotten there yet.

 

At a railroad siding we were put in boxcars of World War I vintage the old 40 hommes et 8 chevaux (40 men and 8 horses). They had two windows on each side about 12 inches square with several bars in each. It was a long freight train. Fifty men were put in a car. We were very crowded and everyone could not sit down at the same time. At first, it was good to get out of the cold, with all of us crowded together it seemed so much warmer and better than walking. Later on in the ride I didn't think so. (Some of the men on the march went to other camps. Later on they would be sent to Moosburg where we were going.) By now the men were in very bad condition. Many were sick, vomiting, and had dysentery and the motion of the train didn't help. There were no toilets only buckets. We were locked in these cars for two days, with no water, and little food. Some men went out of their minds but later calmed down, some showed no emotion. We had brought some food from Stalag Luft 111, but with the sickness no one was hungry and the stench was putrid. At least the cold weather helped reduce the smell. I think the reason we survived the box car ride and march was these men had endured a lot already (the stress of their flight missions, being shot down, many wounded, some severely burned, uncertainty, hunger, dehumanizing treatment by the German people, constant surveillance by the guards, and most importantly we missed the presence of our family). We were determined to survival

 

On the second day in the latter part of the afternoon, the train stopped along the curve of an elevated train track, and we were allowed out. It was a beautiful sunny dry day -- "fresh air" -- it was cold but not like it had been on the march. Everyone ran and fell down the embankment. It is hard to describe the sight looking up at all the bare behinds "mooning" -- all had pulled down their pants to relieve themselves. It was a comical sight and we started laughing. A thing we take for granted -- TOILET PAPER -- where was it? We were out for about 30 minutes, also stretching our legs and breathing clean, fresh air. I hated to get back on the train, we still didn't know what was to become of us. Our morale by now was at its lowest, but we still wanted to survive.

 

The evening of the third day the train stopped. We had been talking very little, not much to say that had not been said over and over before, and there was no way to hear rumors to help keep our hopes up. It became very quiet in our car, what seemed like a long time (really only a few minutes) the guards opened the door and ordered us out and herded us toward our new camp. Where were we and what were they going to do to us? Later we found out we had arrived outside of a small town in Bavaria, Moosburg, north of Munchen. I did not see any signs of war damage.

 

This compound was Stalag VIIA a very crowded camp with thousands of prisoners, and in coming days many more would come. Some of these prisoners had been on the march with us, but had been detoured to other camps.

 

It was February, still cold and raining, the camp looked very bleak and dirty, with the mud and no grass. The men in the camp were walking around unconcerned at seeing or not caring that all these men were coming into their camp. This was different than in Stalag Luft 111 where the men inside came to see and hear the latest news from the outside. These men looked like us emaciated, haggard, dirty, not much dignity or pride left. (This camp reminds me now of pictures we see on T.V. in the 1980s and 1990s of a refugee camp not a prisoner of war camp.) There were many different kinds of uniforms and military ranks here. English, Canadian, Polish, Russian, Arabs, Americans, and others.

 

The camp was divided into several compounds and each was about 20 feet apart. The one next to ours held Polish and Russian prisoners -- I never saw any physical mistreatment but it was obvious the German guards held little respect for them.

 

I saw S/Sgt. Graham for the first time since leaving him in Berlin. S/Sgt James O. Townsend and T/Sgt Charles B. Sewell were there. the first time I had seen them since we had bailed out of our plane, or actually had left England as they were in the back of the plane and I was in the nose. I never saw S/Sgt Robert Anderson or the other waist gunner, a substitute. Lt. Viets was in one of the front barracks in the compound and left on the march before I did. I never saw him again until we held a reunion in the States.

 

November 2, 1993, I talked to Lin Williamson today and found out he had stayed in the Army for a while and had kept in touch with Jim Dennis' family. They told him the Army Air Force found out Jim had been captured by two German soldiers and a German major walked up to them and had shot and killed Jim. After the war the German major was tried and convicted as a war criminal.

 

Lin also said Kouns had bailed out of the burning plane but his chute was hit by a piece of the plane and he was killed.

 

Each pilot had a sheet of onion skin paper with a list of the names of the crew. The pilot was to eat the paper if the plane was in trouble and going down. With all the German fighters and flak, the plane on fire and in a nose dive, Lin failed to do so. Later the Germans found the plane and with some parts still intact including the list of the crew. Now we know how the Germans knew all of the crew names and rank.

 

There were some barracks but they were filled when we arrived. A large tent about 100 to 120 feet long and 50 to 60 feet wide was set up. This is where I stayed. The ground was wet and we used our blankets to sleep on. This further aggravated my back (it still bothers me to this day). It remained very cold. Our "beds" were so close if you got up to go to the toilet you would have to step on someone. Still a lot of sickness and vomiting. We were each "sprayed" many times by sick men trying to get out of the tent before vomiting and not making it. The smell was not very pleasant with the dampness on the ground. Morale was still low but we remained firm in our resolve to survive.

 

There didn't seem to be much order in the camp. So our higher ranking officers tried to organize some, believing order and discipline gives a person hope and pride in themselves, and more of a will to try and overcome the situation we were in. I guess the reason there wasn't much order or discipline before was that the prisoners had already lost hope. The fleas were very bad, and even though it was cold, I would sponge off to try and get rid of them. The bites were bad. Some of the men had big brown spots where they were bitten so badly. There wasn't much to do but walk and fight fleas. The holes in my shoes were larger by now; walking in water and mud didn't help my frostbitten toes either. Not much talking now, except wondering how the war was coming on. The weather was beginning to get better, less raining and not quite so cold. In a distance we began to hear bombing and ground fighting. We became very concerned for our safety so we gathered rags and spelled out POW on the roof of the barracks. The guards would tell us the latest news but it was hard to keep up because of the fast movement of the Allies.

 

I never received any mail or packages at this compound. We received very little food now, the guards gave us some "bread" and rotten potatoes and some other rations, I don't know where they came from. We had to remake our eating equipment again out of Klim cans. I don't know what we would have done without Klim cans. We made small fires out of wood we could tear from the barracks to heat the little food we did get. Some Kreegies had made blowers out of Klim cans to keep the small fires going. You could see these many fires over the camp. We kept close to our three or four friends we had made in Stalag Luft 111 and on the march. We gained strength from each other and determination to live through this nightmare and keep our morale and pride up.

 

With the capture of ground troops some chaplains were among them and they held services on Sunday for us all. The only bright spot at Easter was when a British Episcopal priest held a sunrise service for us.

 

On April 12, 1945, the guards told us of the sudden death of President Roosevelt at Sulphur Springs, Ga. Very few of us knew anything about Harry Truman (the former senator from Missouri). He later turned out to be an excellent president.

 

Back in the States Marilee had gone to the movies, and as she came out a newsboy was crying out "Extra, extra, Roosevelt dead, read all about it". The sources of news then were radio and newspapers, because there was no television. In the movie newsreels the news was several weeks old.

 

On April 17, 1945, a garbled message from Moosburg, supposedly sent by me to Marilee, was intercepted by the U.S. government Not much sense could be made of it Two Intelligence officers went to Marilee's office in Houston to question her to see if there was a message in it, perhaps a code of some kind we had made up before I went to England. She couldn't help them. Upon my return I told her I knew nothing of it

 

In the States, government and military officials knew Hitler was desperate, and they were afraid that with all the high ranking officers in the camp about 60 miles to the northwest of Hitler's hideaway in Berchtergarden, southwest of Salzburg, in Austria, the Germans would take these American officers as hostages. We had come to the same conclusion. It was obvious Hitler was going to permit Germany to be destroyed before he would surrender. If he were willing to do this to Germany, why would he have any concern about the POWs. After the war ended it came out that Hitler had ordered all POWs killed but the German military commanders knew that would make Germany reviled in the eyes of the rest of the world.

 

April 29 1945, was a Sunday. We suddenly realized that we didn't see any guards. We heard gunfire, and cannons, as the Americans were getting close. Some bullets zinged into the compound -- we all ran into the barracks. Later we were told the guards had slipped away and wouldn't fight the Allies, and the Germans (army or civilian) shot them. I think these were the shots we heard coming into the compound. Between two compounds was a road and at the beginning of the road was a gate coming into the compounds. Coming down the road was an American tank, it wasn't long before the tank was covered with prisoners. I had never heard such cheering or seen such waving. Kreegies that had been in for a long time and looked like skeletons were running around (they found extra strength, which they probably didn't know they had), shouting "we're going home," "we're going home." Some of the Gls marching into the compound had D Bars and began handing them out to the prisoners, but there were only a few Gls and thousands of prisoners. When the liberators came through the gate we must have been a sad looking bunch of soldiers, lifeless, emaciated, haggard, hollow eyed, and dirty. But it wasn't long before we realized these were our fellow Americans come to see that we got home. We were told to wait as someone would come. About 30 minutes later coming down the road General George Patton was leading three and two star generals and several full colonels. I had my face pressed up against the fence, as all the prisoners were rushing up to see what was going on and to see General Patton. He was a big man, probably about 6-2 or 6-3, and he stood tall, erect, and proud. The epitome of a soldier. (Back in the States he was famous for carrying his pearl handled pistols, he only had one on as he had given one away to a movie actress.) The cheering had quieted down some, but when we realized who was leading the march, the cheering started up again - the men were shouting "General Patton, General Patton". (Hearing the cheering at Louisiana State University football games now, even though loud, is nothing compared to the cheering the 10,000 to 15,000 men did that day.) Gl rations were brought in like we hadn't seen before. We were very glad to get it even if it was Gl food. Another great sight was when the Stars and Stripes were raised over the compound. After 11 months and five days, I was free.

 

On May 8, 1945, V.E. Day (Victory in Europe) we were trucked to an airstrip out of Moosburg in groups of 30 or 40 and put on DC-3 troop carrier planes and sent to Camp Lucky Strike (staging camp for men to be shipped back to U.S.) at LeHavre, France. Our ordeal was finally over.

 

On May 8, 1945, the war was over in Europe.

 

May 13th the Red Cross informed Marilee I was liberated. She received a Western Union telegram from the government on May 16, 1945, saying I had returned to military control.

 

At Camp Lucky Strike the food personnel found out the ex-Kreegies (I like the sound of "ex"-Kreegie) were not able to eat big meals as our stomachs had shrunk, but we tried. They kept the mess hall (dining room) open 24 hours a day for the ex-Kreegies. When I was shot down I weighed 165 pounds. and I now weighed 115 pounds. I had a runny nose and was put in the hospital. They diagnosed it as malnutrition. I had forgotten what it was like to sleep on a real mattress and clean sheets too. I stayed there a couple of days. Here I finally got some new shoes and clean clothes. It sure was good to be able to take a warm shower again. We were told we could take a leave of four or five days to go into Paris, but they didn't know how long it would delay our trip back home. I had never been to Paris, but I did not want anything to delay going home. Ten days later we were put on the last convoy to the U.S. from Europe. The convoy had a large number of ships and it took about 10 days for the crossing. The weather was not too bad. The ship was very crowded. Three decker beds (hammocks) were set up out on the decks. I had never cared for lying in a hammock but this was better than anything I had slept on the past year. I had two meals a day, clean clothes, showers with soap, towels, and no holes in my shoes, what more could I ask for? At night with the movement of the ship and the stillness of the night, I would think had this past year, being locked in box cars like animals, living conditions in the last camp with very little food, and worst of all the bitterly cold weather we walked five days and nights in, could it, and did it really happen, or was it a horrible nightmare? No it wasn't, but I was on an American ship with friendly people heading west to home. I slept, played cards, and talked about finally going home. I remember coming into New York harbor and seeing the Statue of Liberty. That was the first time I had seen the lady. Boats in the arbor were blowing their whistles and horns -- the men were very emotional and cheering. Large crowds of people on the docks were yelling and cheering. The reception was great. We were very appreciative. However, my focus was on getting home and being with my wife and other members of my family. So I was anxious to move on. We got on buses and rode to Fort Dix in New Jersey. We spent one night there, and I spent most of my time either eating or sleeping. By the time I got home I had gained 20 pounds in six weeks. I called Marilee in Houston -- I told her I had arrived and asked her to meet me in Vicksburg, Miss., my hometown. The men going to my region of the country were sent to Camp Shelby at Hattiesburg, Miss. When we arrived at Shelby the mess halls were open to us to eat all we could. I spent one night there and the next morning I caught a Greyhound bus to Vicksburg and arrived in the late afternoon. When we pulled up to the station, out of the window I saw Marilee, and my mother and father. I felt great. When I stepped off the bus, onto Mississippi soil I finally realized for sure I was FREE -- HOME -- and SAFE.

 

AFTERWORD: After Barwick returned, we lived for several months in Vicksburg. In 1946 Barwick enrolled at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He graduated with top grades with a major in political science even though he owned and was managing a popular off-campus restaurant while attending college. In 1950, we returned to Vicksburg where Barwick and his brother, Marty, operated an appliance store and a feed and seed store for several years. In 1958 we moved back to Louisiana where Barwick began a business career, first in insurance and then in investments and banking. He became highly successful marketing insurance and investment products he devised. He currently has a marketing firm in Baton Rouge, and our son, Barwick O. "Wick" Barfield, Jr., is his partner. In addition to Wick and Eugene K. Barfield (deceased), we have two daughters, Denise E. (Mrs. Adrian) Alba, a Baton Rouge homemaker, and Pamela S. Barfield, an advertising executive living in Los Angeles. We have three grandchildren including Barwick O. "Trea" Barfield, III, Adrian Alba, III, and Lauren Alba, all of Baton Rouge. When we observed our 50th anniversary in September of 1993, John "Bill Frey, one of Barwick's POW friends, flew down from Canton, Ohio, with his wife to help us celebrate it.

 

Marilee Wilshire Barfield